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Kirkpatrick’s Levels and Bloom’s Taxonomy

Submitted by  on March 1st, 2013

People taking notes at training courseAre you confused on how to incorporate Donald Kirkpatrick’s Level 2 and Level 3 in the design of your training program? Level 2 is about how much and how well your training participants learned. Level 3 asks how much of that learning is translated into behavior on the job. But hang on a minute. Isn’t learning – effective learning – supposed to be about behavior?

I have been advising trainers to incorporate how they plan to do the program evaluation into their initial program design – starting with the end in mind, as we say. I hear you ask, “When I am writing up my training program objectives, how do I distinguish between learning objectives (Level 2) and behavioral objectives (Level 3)? What is the difference between these two levels and how should they impact my program design?”

The answer to this conundrum is that for the training event itself, learning objectives do not exclude behavioral objectives. For the program participants, there should be no dichotomy. It’s not a case of either/or.

Consider two of the most influential models for writing learning objectives. Robert F. Mager’s PCC model (Performance, Conditions, Criterion) includes Performance as the learner’s ability to perform the actual task. Similarly, Heinich, Molenda, Russell, and Smaldino’s ABCD model (Audience, Behavior, Condition and Degree) includes learner Behavior as fundamental to effective learning outcomes.

And this makes sense. We wouldn’t say someone has learned how to ride a bicycle if they can’t actually ride a bike. Only knowing the physics and biology of bike riding just doesn’t cut it. When it comes to workplace training, always include the required learner behaviors in the learning objectives. My book on writing effective learning objectives has helped many trainers focus on just that; behaviors and performance.

You see, Kirkpatrick’s Level 2 is about measuring the amount and depth of learning during and at the conclusion of the program. And this includes learning how to apply the new knowledge and skills to actual workplace situations. Kirkpatrick’s Level 3 is about measuring learner application immediately on the job and after some significant period. Level 3 evaluation is about stickiness. How well have the new behaviors stuck after a period of forgetting, lack of incentives, shortage of tools and resources, and so on? For evaluating at Level 3, consider measuring behavior change soon after the event and again some 3 or 6 months later.

Many trainers are similarly confused about how to apply Bloom’s taxonomy when creating learning objectives. I see many trainers stop at Bloom’s Level 2, Comprehension (or Understanding in the revised model). For real workplace change and impacting on-the-job performance, I push trainers to at least Level 3, Application (or Applying in the revised model). Applying the learning only starts at this level. Which other of Bloom’s levels you should incorporate in your learning objectives will depend on the nature and scope of your particular training program.

So far, I have only been considering Bloom’s Cognitive domain. This is where most trainers get stuck in a ditch. Don’t forget. There are two other equally important learning domains; Affective and Psychomotor. So, if you want your training to be truly effective, make behavior the focus of your learning objectives and consider all three of Bloom’s domains when you next construct your program’s learning objectives.

Writing Learning Outcomes e-book

For a step-by-step guide on writing behavior-based learning objectives with lots of templates and examples, check out my Writing Learning Outcomes. As you complete each step in the guide, you will write the results for your particular training project in the workbook provided. When you have finished working through the workbook, you will have a complete set of documented learning objectives for your project. Find out more about Writing Learning Outcomes and download the free introductory chapter today.

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